“Super Saturday” Results Give Hope to St. John’s and GeorgetownPosted by Brian Otskey on February 2nd, 2014
Brian Otskey (@botskey) attended the “Super Saturday” doubleheader at Madison Square Garden yesterday and filed this report.
When this year’s college basketball schedule was released, many people circled February 1 on their calendars as it would feature a doubleheader at Madison Square Garden on the day before the Super Bowl involving three quality Big East teams and a national championship contender from the Big Ten. Fast forward to the actual game day and the storylines coming in to Saturday’s games were a lot different. Marquette, picked to finish first in the new look Big East, was looking to get its season back on track after losing nine games before February and posting just a .500 mark in Big East play. St. John’s, a trendy surprise preseason pick, had stumbled badly and came into yesterday’s game with a 2-6 league record. Georgetown, picked right behind Marquette in the preseason poll, entered the weekend with an 11-9 overall record and in the midst of a five-game losing streak. The only storyline that hadn’t changed from the preseason was Michigan State is still a national title contender, although the Spartans are currently playing without two injured starters in Adreian Payne and Branden Dawson.
So much for that. Those storylines flipped once again after the games were played, as St. John’s blasted Marquette in a game that wasn’t remotely close, and Georgetown pulled a huge upset in knocking off the Spartans in the day’s second game. For Steve Lavin’s team, the win was further proof that the Red Storm are beginning to find their identity. The win was the fourth in five games with the only loss coming by three points at Creighton last Tuesday. St. John’s is playing better basketball and a lot of folks are starting to take notice. “Everything’s moving in the right direction,” said D’Angelo Harrison, who led the Johnnies with a game-high 27 points on 6-of-11 shooting from three-point land. “We’re buying into the process.” Lavin, while downplaying the win when a media member asked if it may represent a turning point, echoed Harrison’s comments. “The kids took another positive step forward. Since halftime of the Georgetown game, this team just keeps getting better,” said the fourth-year Red Storm head man. “I see it in practice, I see it in games. I haven’t had a group that fights back like this group.”
St. John’s now stands at 13-9 overall and 3-6 in Big East play, so there is still plenty of work to be done for this team to achieve its preseason goals. The schedule is somewhat favorable, though, with five of seven games at home after the Johnnies return from Providence this coming Tuesday. There is a chance that St. John’s can finish conference play around .500, give or take a game or two. However, that likely won’t be enough to push the Red Storm into the NCAA Tournament when you consider their non-conference resume. The best team the Red Storm beat prior to Big East play was Georgia Tech at the Barclays Center, with missed opportunities against Wisconsin, Penn State and Syracuse sure to come back to haunt the Johnnies come March. That said, St. John’s is making progress and Lavin was optimistic about the future. When looking at the big picture, it is hard to argue that St. John’s isn’t on the right path considering where the program was before he arrived. Yesterday’s game was, as Lavin said, just another step forward. “That’s what 40 minutes of St. John’s basketball is supposed to look like,” said sophomore JaKarr Sampson. If the Red Storm can play like that more consistently, Sampson and his teammates can finally turn the corner on this season and as a program.
At 11-9 overall and 3-6 in the league, there was a sense of urgency in the Georgetown players and coaches in Saturday’s win over Michigan State. The Hoyas executed well on both ends (particularly defensively) and played with a confidence they haven’t shown for quite some time. John Thompson III’s team held the Spartans to 39.6 percent shooting and earned the win it desperately needed. “It’s a good win and I would feel that way regardless of the opponent the way we’ve been going,” Thompson said after the game. The relief was palpable in Markel Starks’ voice as well. “It feels good, finally,” said the Hoyas’ senior point guard. Georgetown dominated the rebounding against a Michigan State club that is historically beastly on the boards. The Hoyas were plus-two on the offensive glass and won the overall rebounding battle, by seven. “We beat them up pretty good on the boards. That was a point of emphasis for us,” said Georgetown senior forward Nate Lubick, who had one of the niftiest plays of the day when he inbounded the ball off a Michigan State player’s back to himself for an easy score.
According to Michigan State head coach Tom Izzo, Georgetown “manhandled” the Spartans. “Today we got out-toughed, said Izzo, who added, “players play, tough players win. When I die I hope they put that on my tombstone.” While Thompson III chuckled and didn’t seem to fully agree with Izzo’s comments, he was still thrilled with the outcome and his own team’s toughness. “You’re not going to beat Michigan State or any team in the Big East if you aren’t physically tough,” he said. “They deserved to win and we got what we deserved,” added Izzo. Tough they were indeed, but now Georgetown can’t celebrate this win for long as it heads to DePaul on Monday night, barely 48 hours after beating Michigan State. The schedule turns a bit in the Hoyas’ favor over the next couple of weeks and an opportunity is there for Georgetown to make a run back to .500 in conference play. If the Hoyas do so, there still may be hope for an NCAA Tournament bid yet. Georgetown’s non-conference schedule was strong with games against the Spartans as well as versus Oregon, VCU, Kansas State and Kansas. Georgetown picked up wins against VCU and Kansas State so a finish around .500 or better in conference play could propel it into the field of 68. There is a lot of basketball yet to be played but yesterday’s win can potentially give Georgetown the confidence it needs to sustain itself back on the winning track.